A Shustoke Sailing Club youngster has had a huge boost in his ambitions to become a top class sailor after being awarded his own boat – donated by the John Merricks Sailing Trust (JMST), the official charity partner of RYA OnBoard – as part of a national scheme helping young talent progress in the sport.


 Oscar Cawthorne, 11, was chosen to receive a new Optimist dinghy – the boat Sir Ben Ainslie started his sailing career in as a junior – after demonstrating his enthusiasm, talent and commitment to the sport. He was selected as one of 15 winners from 80 applicants nationwide after finishing third in the Optimist fleet at the RYA Midlands Zone Championships at Draycote Water SC in September.
Oscar has been sailing with his dad, Jon, and older siblings, Scarlett and Ralph, since he was five and the family sail almost every weekend at their home club, Shustoke SC, near Coleshill. But it was when he was accepted into the Midlands RYA Zone Squad, the first rung on the ladder towards Olympic Classes sailing, last year that Oscar really started taking his sailing up a notch.
OnBoard is the nationwide grassroots programme run by sailing’s national governing body, the RYA, to introduce sailing and windsurfing to young people aged 8 to 18 and giving them opportunities to sail regularly at low cost. The JMST, set up in the memory of 1996 Olympic silver medallist sailor John Merricks, helps young sailors and youth sailing organisations achieve their goals.
Over five years, JMST through RYA OnBoard are donating more than 50 one-person junior RYA racing pathway boats and windsurfing boards to youngsters who might not ordinarily have had the opportunity to progress their skills with the highest quality equipment to continue participating in sailing. 
Oscar now has two years’ exclusive use of the Optimist before it is then donated to Shustoke SC to help other talented young sailors at the club progress in their racing and on to regional and national training and events. But in the meantime Oscar has very clear ambitions of his own.

He said: “In two years’ time I would love to be in the National squad with all the country’s top sailors. The new boat is great because sailing is the most amazing hobby to have and it’s fantastic to now have the opportunity of sailing at the Nationals with the kind of boat the top sailors have. My current boat is older than my brother and sister’s Optimists, and I still beat them, most of the time!



“Sailing is my passion and getting into the Midlands Zone squad last year was when I really got excited about sailing. I have learnt so much from the training about racing and sailing techniques and also about myself. I love to win, especially I love to beat the adults at my club! I have made some fantastic friends when competing at Nationals and other large events, and I particularly look forward to those weekends when we meet up to race.”  
This was Oscar’s breakthrough season in terms of starting to attend Optimist events all over the country, including the Nationals, Inlands and End of Season Championships, as he follows in the wake of Scarlett and Ralph, who are also talented Midlands RYA Zone squad sailors.
The Cawthorne family, who live in Bentley Heath in Solihull, have all had a big impact on junior sailing development at Shustoke, with dad Jon also acting as Optimist fleet captain, helping transform the club from being one that had no Optimist sailors who owned boats or took part in club racing to building up a vibrant group of young sailors developing their skills and racing Optimists at the club and beyond. 
Jon believes it won’t be long before Oscar starts progressing through the rankings and inspiring other young sailors at Shustoke too.
He continued: “Oscar loves the excitement of sailing, racing, having fun and winning on the water. The new boat will give Oscar something for a few years which will allow him to hone his skills further and help propel him up the fleet and compete on a level field. Having a boat and a sail as good as the others will remove any obstacle, whether mental or physical, from his performance and allow him to achieve his best.
“By the club being able to make the most of the boat once Oscar has finished with it, I believe JMST and OnBoard will strengthen the bond not only Oscar has with sailing but, that through this, he will inspire others to take up this great sport too.”
Ian Walker, double Olympic silver medallist, Volvo Ocean Race-winning skipper and JMST Trustee, added: “It is wonderful to see the progress and achievements so many of the sailors supported in the first years of the scheme have made. We hope the latest awards will enable the selected sailors to develop their talent, much as John Merricks did when he was awarded a club sailing boat at a young age and started on his own pathway to success.”
Over 10 years OnBoard has introduced over 500,000 children to sailing and windsurfing in the UK, converting over 10% of them into regular participants.
To find out more about RYA OnBoard visit www.rya.org.uk/go/onboard or for more information about the JMST visit www.jmst.org.uk

Related article:  http://www.rya.org.uk/newsevents/news/Pages/midlands-sailors-.aspx


Jon Cawthorne